Monday, May 28, 2012

Are you experienced?

There has been something going around in my head over the past couple of weeks…and it sort of became “materialized” last weekend. A friend of mine Milan Jerinic and I conducted a seminar on some of the fighting principles and methodologies of the Homo Ludens system of martial arts. Like always, the emphasis of out approach is having the attendants experience the material taught and develop as much as possible, and as early as possible, the corporal understanding of the principles and material presented.

While I would say we had some success in attaining this goal, there was one thing that crept up during the work. Experiencing…well, along with all the good things that come with it, there seem to be some downsides too. In short, while it is good to be able and say that one can claim from the personal experience that something does work in real time, there appears to be an inclination of experienced solutions to a problem to become somewhat “dogmatic”. In other words, once a person manages to apply a technique or a movement in real time and under pressure, they tend to start thinking of it as the only solution to that type of problem/task at hand.

Specifically, during the seminar segment that I dedicated to learning about weapons use (particularly in the symmetrical manner), the earlier presented and adopted methods kept showing up even during the drills that were explicitly instructed to use other methods. In the future I will try adding more asymmetrical situations in between the symmetrical ones, in hope of keeping it up bit more “chaotic”, thus requiring departure from singular interpretations.

However, this whole experience (hmmm) led me to thinking about something else – how many methods, drills, techniques etc. have been dropped from training (especially in the so-called RBSD camps) simply because the instructor(s) never came to trying them, owing to the fact that they had tried, and were successful, with something else?

Of course, the reality-based cluster is not the only one succumbing to this occurrence. We have all witnessed techniques that had been discarded as “useless” re-occur in MMA occasionally and with stunning effect. 


Some of them have since become widely accepted (eg. high roundhouse kick), while other ones not really (eg. spinning backfist or that Machida-jumping front kick). Could those actually become “normal” or high-percentage if practiced with more dedication and open-mindedness?


Even in the systems that declaratively do not have pre-defined techniques (most notably Systema), you will see people reverting back to some favorite answers to the tasks that bear some resemblance. I know, they will say it is due to universal principles that apply “across the board”, but that does not change the fact that they use the same expression of the given principle over and over again.

The question then is when to reach beyond and try new things? How much training in something is enough to try it in a dynamic environment and conclude with some degree of certainty that it is functional or not?

Of course, there will always be the inevitable interference of fluke and lucky shots…but how to recognize and tell it apart from the reliable high-percentage options?

This gets me to the clever words of my friend Noah Gross, referring to how they do things in A.C.T. (Armed Combat and Tactics. If you are unfamiliar with these guys, you would be well-advised to check out their work – a superb group of people that are both brilliant fighters and genuine gentlemen). In Noah’s words: “The most important thing is to keep looking for ways of using old knowledge in a dynamic training environment. You spar and survive – you get experience. You learn a technique – you try to implement it. You didn’t – you go back to the drawing board and look for the why's and the if's and the how's…Bottom up + top down. Knowledge meets experience…

Noah Gross and Alexander Zhelezniak of A.C.T.

Time to go back to the drawing board I guess…

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Curriculum in Russian martial arts - our take

My friend Paul Genge, a RMA instructor from UK, has recently written about the place and role of curriculum in training this type of combat methods, and what shape it should take. (For Paul’s very good and insightful article, go here: )
This post is my attempt at offering some guidelines in that regard. It needs to be clear right away, that the following methodology of teaching and training in RMA is not my own breakthrough, but rather the accumulation of knowledge and experience that has been embodied into what is now known as HomoLudens approach to martial arts, coming from the instructors in the club Vukovi (Wolves), with whom I have had the pleasure and privilege to work.

The first thing should be sorted out is what is the main focus of teaching? Is it on passing some specific body of knowledge in a more or less intact form, or is it making the students, as individuals, capable to express a degree of fighting competence in their own performance, and naturally, with their own individual style. We happen to be inclined towards the latter, which in turn dictates certain “progression”, or maybe it is better said hierarchy of things. The first issue is somewhat based in our integrity as a club – we teach what we believe the student NEEDS to know, not what they WANT to know! So far, it has pushed away many a Specnaz wannabe and Youtube “warrior”, who were focused on the image of things, over the substance. While maybe not the best business policy, the Wolves refuse to be feeding people’s illusions for mere monetary profit, and instead we offer an honest and authentic environment to train in.

HomoLudens club Vukovi

OK, so what is it that a student of (Russian) martial art needs? I guess there are as many answers to this question as there are instructors. The viewpoint also plays a significant role here – is it dealing with common types of attacks; mastering some “high percentage, surefire” techniques; having ready-made answers to wide variety of problems etc.

Our starting point is the bodily ability to deal with certain physical realities, pertaining to combat. Yes, those are many, but some fundamental ones are: free movement in space, comfort in any plane and any level of movement (standing, kneeling, squatting, sitting, laying and anything in between), handling the force of the opponent, issuing force of our own, emotional composure in dealing with all of the above.

Now that the needs have been identified, one can work on learning about the best way to execute those movements, i.e. the proper mechanics of delivery, and then honing and polishing them. Here we come to a couple more important points to cover. One is that our teaching, like in most other RMA schools, is based on the emphasis of principles over prescribed techniques. That does not mean, of course, that techniques are unimportant and irrelevant, far from it. Everybody needs techniques that best illustrate the principles that form the core of a training method…however, a technique is but one possible expression of a principle and should be taken as such. Therefore, the drills are meant to instill the command of a principle, not to build the “automatism” of a technique. It means that as soon as the student gets a grasp over the principle, he is exposed to the dynamic, fuzzy type of drilling, where his technical expression will have to adapt “on the go”, in effort to properly respond to the demands of the situation.

Think of it as the conversational scenario when taking a course of a foreign language. You do not practice your grammar by “drilling” the same sentence over and over…at least I hope you don’t.

Speaking fluently?

What you take a look at it, there is a sort of dichotomy here – on one side you need to develop good and efficient mechanics of delivery; on the other you need to be able of adjust it to the context at hand. The former focuses on technical precision, the latter on the emotional composure that enables the adaptation. How do we put the two together?

This is where the great insight of HomoLudens founder Alex Kostic comes in handy again, i.e. his formula of symmetrical and asymmetrical “work” in fighting. I have already discussed this distinction before, so let me go straight to how it applies here. We use the symmetrical approach to developing and refining the mechanical efficiency and technical precision, while the asymmetrical work is employed in enhancing the contextual adaptability, along with its emotional/mental component.

Alex Kostic

If we are to get back to that language learning metaphor, the symmetrical approach is building your vocabulary and grammar, the asymmetrical is becoming conversational – thinking in a foreign language, without the need to translate every single sentence in your head.